Have this train stop at your house

Train Biz

Ken Ludewig is hooked on trains. The jack-of-all trades who spent years felling trees in the Santa Cruz Mountains and later ran the famous San Martin Christmas Tree Farm has started a new chapter of his life with an old friend, a gas-powered train that he built from scratch.
The 68-year-old wants to recreate a bit of that magic with his latest venture, the California Jungle Train, a candy-red, gas-powered train with trailing passenger cars that can be hired for birthday parties, weddings, music festivals or corporate events. The train also comes equipped with bubble and smoke machines.
“Instead of people having to go to the train, the train comes to them,” said Ludewig, who built the train out of a refashioned lawnmower with a friend over the course of a year.
The train is named after Ludewig’s moniker for the Santa Cruz Mountains and the title of a song he wrote and recorded with a roster of acclaimed rock-and-roll musicians, including Santa Cruz singer Tammi Brown and guitarist Ken Kraft. The song is also played on the train’s hi-fi system.
It all started when the San Martin native visited the Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk in the 1970s and rode the cave train, the ride where amusement park guests can get out of the sun for a few minutes and travel back in time to watch animatronic cave men act out scenes like dancing in a jazz bar or flirting.
Ludewig was impressed with the seaside attraction and rode it multiple times that day.
Noticing he wasn’t the only one who loved the train, he went back to San Martin with the idea of building and installing his own train at his family’s ranch and bustling roadside attraction.
“We built the first train in 1988—it was homemade, but it did good,” said Ludewig, who operated the novelty train as a way to entertain people who stopped to buy a Christmas tree or pumpkin.
Ludewig’s great-grandparents bought the San Martin ranch in 1918 and over the years it became a destination for generations of South Valley residents and the occasional celebrity who happened to be passing through.
“In the ’30s and ’40s my grandmother had a candy stand where she sold orange honey almonds that were very popular,” said Ludewig, who now lives in Hollister. “Marilyn Monroe and Liberace stopped by,” he said.
Before Highway 101 was built and Monterey Road was the main thoroughfare for motorists traveling between the San Francisco Bay and Los Angeles, visitors would pass through idyllic San Martin, surrounded by orchards—prunes, peaches, apricots—and stop at the Ludewig Ranch at the corner of Monterey and California Street.
And for more than 30 years, the San Martin Christmas Tree Farm was a festive place for families to pick the tree of their dreams.
The train was a treat for both young and old, Ludwig said. Even brides would get a kick out of riding out to their wedding on the train.
Sitting in the driver’s seat dressed in a blue and white striped engineer’s outfit, his head just peeking out through the top of the train, Ludewig points out the safety switch, so no kid can just jump on and ride off, he said, and demonstrates his favorite feature—the train’s working smoke stack.
“It’s got all the bells and whistles,” he said, and quite literally, a whistle goes off.
He charges $100 an hour for the train, conductor and ticket taker. You can book rides at (408) 455-1682.